Gareth Thomas was the first out gay professional rugby union player in the world. At the age of 35, he made international headlines for coming out in 2009 in a heterosexual and mostly masculine-male dominated sport. Unfortunately, Thomas was just recently the victim of a homophobic assault, but the Welsh rugby start is trying to turn a negative into a positive by using the situation to highlight bullying and bigotry against queer people. As the sport Gareth Thomas loves evolves, will rugby and its fans be more welcoming and inclusive to LGBT people?
While many professional sports leagues around the world still don’t have our players and while being a professional athlete and gay in America is an anomaly, Gareth Thomas came out nearly 10 years ago as a gay man in his sport of Rugby. Before the Tom Daleys, Robbie Rogers, Adam Rippons, and Gus Kenworthys of the world, there was Gareth Thomas, who came out at the height of his career. He risked losing it all by announcing that he was gay in such a manly man’s sport, but was fortunate enough to be supported by his teammates and the leagues he played in.
When he was brutally assaulted on November 17, 2018, the rugby world stood beside the retired star in solidarity against homophobia. Team France immediately wore rainbow shoe laces at their next game. Team New Zealand also participated in their game on November 24th by wearing rainbow laces in Rome against Team Italy. This is highly significant in this Catholic and conservative nation where gay rights are often overlooked.
Blaine Scully, captain of Team USA also sported rainbow shoelaces to show support of Gareth Thomas. “I’m proud to stand with Gareth and the wider LGBT community against hate,” Scully said. “Rugby’s core values will always promote respect, teamwork and sportsmanship.”—Scully said.
Born on July 25, 1976, Gareth Thomas is a well known figure throughout the rugby world, homosexual or not. A former captain for the Welsh Team, Thomas played for Wales in rugby union and rugby league. He is currently ranked 13th among all international try scorers, and is the second highest Wales try scorer ever. He played Rugby for England and France as well until he retired in 2011 after breaking his arm.
Thomas made his assault public to help spread awareness of bigotry and violent crimes against the lgbt community. Now that the 16 year old assailant was apprehended, Thomas is working with the police to deal with the crime using restorative justice, so that the youth’s life isn’t destroyed forever for this cruel and foolish act. This compassion has echoed throughout the international rugby community as they’ve stood by Gareth Thomas in the week and a half since the incident.
“The response from the rugby community and from the public in general has been amazing. There has been overwhelming support. So much so that it took me back, to be honest,” Thomas says.
The International Gay Rugby league is also standing by Gareth Thomas and doing what they can to combat homophobia and bigotry. Looking towards 2020, they have recently announced that the Bingham Cup, the largest LGBT Rugby competition, will make its debut in Ottawa, Canada. Hosted by the Ottawa Wolves, the Bingham Cup will feature close to 70 teams from five continents in the Canadian Capital.
“The international gay rugby community is extremely excited that the Bingham Cup will be held in Canada for first time – a country with a growing rugby community and a proud reputation of openness towards the LGBT+ community. The Ottawa Wolves are one of IGR’s most active and successful clubs, having competed in every Bingham Cup since their creation including the first women’s competition at the Bingham Cup Amsterdam 2018,” said Ben Owen, IGR Chair.
Named after Mark Bingham, a member of the San Francisco Fog team who died on United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11, 2001 (Bingham is credited as one of the passengers who tackled the terrorists on-board flight 93, preventing the aircraft from reaching the hijackers’ intended target), the Bingham Cup will be celebrating its 10th anniversary and is now one of the largest 15-a-side rugby tournaments in the world.
The The Bingham Cup is held in honor of Mark’s memory and challenges stereotypes and perceptions of the LGBT+ community.
Since his attack, Gareth Thomas is joining with the IGR in spreading awareness for the lgbt community. Show your support for the sport and Gareth Thomas by attending the Bingham Cup next year.